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Past & Present of Platte County, Nebraska - Volume I

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mission school in the vicinity of the Platte. After a careful examination of the locality, he chose Bellevue, and erected a log house for his residence. In the spring of 1847, Walter Lowrie, secretary of the board, visited Bellevue and confirmed the selection, at the same time ordering the construction of necessary buildings on the plateau. These were finished in 1848.

  A school had been opened by Messrs. Dunbar and Ellis, on Council Creek, up the Platte, before the formal opening of the Bellevue school; but Indian hostility to the effort had resulted in its abandonment. Thus it is that the Bellevue mission was the second school begun in the territory afterward called Nebraska. R. E. Reed was the first superintendent, and the mission force consisted of Rev. Mr. McKinney and family and Mr. Reed.


  During the half century which elapsed between the visit of the military expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark and the formal settlement of a white man (other than missionary or trader) on the soil of Nebraska, circumstances conspired to send thousands of white men into this region, for a longer or shorter period. First, in point of time and numbers, among the migratory bands, were the Mormons. Broken up in their home at Nauvoo, Illinois, the greater portion of believers in that faith journeyed slowly, with much suffering and loss of life, across Iowa, by several routes, and finally, with slight exceptions, crossed the Missouri River during the years 1845 and 1846, locating about six miles north of Omaha, at what is now known as Florence, but was then termed by the Mormons "Winter Quarters." Here about fifteen thousand people congregated. The devastation wrought upon wild lands by such an army of non-producers naturally excited the anger of the Indians, to whom the lands belonged. It was asserted that the Mormons were cutting too much timber. The complaint was effective in causing the removal of the invaders. Many of them found temporary shelter among the bluffs on the Iowa side of the river. Soon an expedition of eighty wagons was sent out in search of a permament home for the Latter Day Saints, which resulted in the selection of the Salt Lake Valley -- then far beyond the reach of government law, and where they could enjoy their peculiar observances untouched by the power of those who deemed their faith a fraud and their practices pernicious. The presence of these families had no decisive influence upon the future of Nebraska. There



are those still living within the state who entertain the Mormon faith, without the practice of polygamy, of course; but the transitory residence here of the main band was not destined to become a factor in the future history of this commonwealth. Brigham Young led a part of his followers westward in 1847, crossing from St. Mary to Bellevue in a ferry owned by Colonel Sarpy, who was a warm friend of the Mormon Moses.


  Next after the Mormons came the flood of emigrants to California, in search of that most seductive, that most powerful metal known to man. The fever of 1849 swept over all the land and thousands found their way to the Pacific along the Valley of the Platte. The moving host left here and there a permanent impress on the land. Nor was this all; the land in turn so charmed the eye and created so abiding an impression on the mind of many a beholder that, wearied with the unequal contest of the camp, they abandoned the pick and spade for the surer implements of husbandry; and remembering the beautiful valley of the Platte, sought its peaceful hills and plains, wherein to erect homes for their declining years. Another effect of the emigration was the establishment of a ferry between what is now Omaha and Council Bluffs, by William D. Brown, in 1851 or 1852. In 1853 he made claim to the site of Omaha. The western travel, which in the first months of the excitement, had crossed the Missouri at Winter Quarters (Florence), Bellevue and other points, was largely diverted to "Lone Tree," as the site of Omaha was then called, and the seeds of a great metropolis were implanted in a most nutritious soil.

  Life on the plains! What memories are awakened within the breast of many a resident of Nebraska at the sight and sound of those words! When the golden spike was driven which bound together the iron links in the great national highway, the knell of that wild period in the history of the West was struck. The whistle of the first locomotive in its fierce rush across the hitherto trackless expanse ended forever that scene in the drama of progress, which was alike comedy and tragedy. "I crossed the plains," are words, when spoken by the bronzed and hardy pioneer, which signify more than men of later generation can conceive of. The toiling caravan of emigrants to the El Dorado of the Pacific Slope; the venturesome cavalcade of daring huntsmen; the solitary group of mountaineers -- a class peculiar to



the "Rockies" -- have passed beyond the view, and all that now remain of them are scattered traces of forgotten graves, a few survivors of those scenes, busied with other tasks, and vague traditions of the times, which horrify or charm, as deeds of murder, robbery or love perchance to give the coloring to the tale.

  Nebraska was the highway of the West when lumbering wagons furnished the only means of transport, as now, when steam and palace cars augment the speed and comfort of the journey. Imagine, if you can, and you, survivor of the olden time, conjure up a vision of modern methods, as in fancy you live once more those days of hardship. You lift your head from the damp earth, and by the flickering light of waning camp fire, see the mighty engine dashing by, with train of sleeping coaches, freighted with slumbering voyagers. And, as you gather about the morning fire, with scanty meal, behold the men who look disgusted at their morning bill of fare within the dining coach and sigh because their journey is a wearying one. They will reach their destination within the week, while you can count the time by months since you stood looking eastward, as night shut down upon you and blotted out the last rude traces of the "States." And still long months of deprivation must ensue before you gain the end of that slow march.

  Let us give place to mention of those events which were, if not direct, at least subsidiary, agencies in the original settlement of Nebraska, and which demonstrated the fact that the Valley of the Platte was the only route of travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific within the limits of the more temperate latitudes. In remote times -- remote for the West -- the beginning of "the West" was at the Mississippi. Western Illinois and Wisconsin and Western Iowa were accessible by water by the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The region beyond was known only to the courageous few who had braved the perils of a wilderness inhabited by hostile tribes. But, in 1850, when the fever for gold had spread throughout the East, the limits of civilization had extended so far that supplies of horses, mules, cattle, wagons, coffee, flour, bacon, sugar and the indispensables of a trip across the plains were obtainable at points on the Missouri River, in the State of Missouri. Parties endeavored to reach that stream early in the spring, that they might take advantage of the growth of vegetation as food for their teams. While some caravans followed the Arkansas, many more chose to come up the Missouri and travel thence westward along the rich valley of the Platte. Thus was first opened up to observant pioneers the beauties of this region. Hundreds of improvident but



eager men set out so late in the season as to encounter the rigor of winter in the mountains, and many perished miserably from exposure and starvation. Others started early enough to safely pass the Rocky Mountains, only to meet their fate in the inhospitable fastnesses of the Sierra Nevadas, where snow frequently piles to the depths of thirty or forty feet in localities. Among the very early trials were the dangers incident to crossing a country inhabited by fierce Indians. If the truth could be known, probably every mile from the Missouri to the Pacific would demand at least one headstone to mark a victim's grave. The stages of life, from birth to the closing of the drama, were here exemplified. Many a poor mother hushed her new born babe amid the rough scenes of a camp, while she herself was suffering from lack of those comforts so essential to maternity. Along the trackless plain many a maiden awoke to the revelation of love, and many a troth was plighted. Even the marriage rite was sometimes celebrated amid the crude but earnest congratulations of the sturdy groups which formed the caravan. And death, in every form, paid frequent court to those lone wanderers. The novelist of the future will here find ample materials for plot and story.

  At the time referred to, the whole region, from the Missouri to the Pacific, was vaguely known as "the plains," though it embraced almost every variety of country. First, the emigrant crossed the rich, rolling prairies of Nebraska. The soil grew thinner and thinner until it merged into dreary sand deserts. Upon these he found myriads of prairie dogs, sometimes living in towns twenty miles square; herds of graceful antelopes bounded over the hills, and huge, ungainly buffaloes, which numbered millions then, blackened parts of the landscape. A day's journey was from ten to twenty miles. When the company halted for the night, they turned their animals out to graze, with such precautions as served to prevent their escape; lighted a fire on the prairies of buffalo chips, and supped upon pork, hot bread or "flap-jacks," and washed the frugal repast down with the inevitable tin cup of coffee. Their trusty guns were kept within easy reach, and the whitened skull of a buffalo, perhaps killed by some emigrant long before in wanton sport, served as a seat. At night, the travelers slept soundly, with the blue of heaven for a canopy. The wagons were covered with stout canvas, and afforded protection to the few women and children during the later years of the excitement. All became inured to the conditions of outdoor life. When large streams were reached, the heavy wagons were floated or hauled, and where it was convenient to do so, rude bridges were constructed over smaller



streams. Every source of ingenuity was developed. If a wheel gave way, and the mechanical productiveness of the party could not replace it, a cottonwood log, with one end dragging on the ground, was made to serve instead. If a pole broke, another was extemporized from the nearest timber. If an ox died, some luckless cow was yoked in his place. Sometimes one family, or one party of half a dozen men, journeyed alone, and sometimes there were a hundred or more wagons in a single "train," with their white covers enveloped in an increasing cloud of dust. During the seasons when emigration was very heavy, caravans could, from an eminence, be seen stretching out for miles and miles, and at night every pleasant camping ground was a populous village. The journey was not without its enjoyments, though one's philosophy was sorely tried at times. There were often long delays for hunting lost cattle, waiting for swollen streams to subside, or in climbing the mountains. Storms and mishaps frequently taxed the patience of all, and sickness came to feeble frame and hardy men alike. The first of a long line of trains often climbed steep hills, instead of going the longer and easier way through ravines, and the followers along the new roads were forced to desert the beaten track, and risk untried courses, or labor on in their wake. It was not uncommon to see from ten to thirty yoke of cattle hitched to a single wagon, working slowly up the mountain. The summit reached at last, the wagon would be emptied, and with a huge log trailing behind as a brake, the teams would descend to repeat their experience in ascending with other loads. The wild, majestic scenery along the way may have been a partial compensation to some for the hardships they endured, but it is reasonable to believe that few would have refused to forego those delights if thereby they might have gained easier transit. The tragedies of those days were numerous. The very nature of the journey and the chances of sudden wealth, combined with the freedom of the manner of living, gathered many a desperate character into the civil army. The baser passions were too often allowed full scope and hence it must be recorded that many a villain found his end at the hands of outraged companions. The travelers were a law unto themselves, and greed or lust were summarily avenged.


  From the diary of an early settler is quoted the following vivid description of the appearance of Nebraska in 1856:

  "I first came to Nebraska in 1856, and the rolling prairies existing



between the Big Sandy and Fort Kearney had been burnt off, so that as the caravan with which I was traveling passed along, a wide waste of desolation met the eye. The surface of the earth was black as charcoal, and here and there was spotted with the bleached bones of buffalo, oxen and wolves. It seemed as though nothing could live in that forsaken looking country, and yet I thought then that where that black, charred surface was, there must have been long blades of brown and yellow grass, before the fire swept them out of existence. And I thought, too, the grass must have been beautifully green in the spring and summer time; and I hoped to see the summer bloom for me again. When I approached the Platte Valley from the hills which skirt it, my eyes were delighted with the sight that met my view. Near by, lay that beautiful country, its land as level as a floor, the dense groves of trees stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was a gorgeous spectacle, and it seemed to me no valley on the earth could surpass it in agricultural possibilities. During the winter of 1856-7, I journeyed on to Fort Laramie. The point at which I struck the Platte must have been two hundred and fifty miles from its mouth. From there to Fort Laramie was about three hundred and seventy-five miles. I therefore traveled fully three hundred and seventy-five miles, so that my opportunity for judging of its extent and general features was of the best, although it was seen under most disparaging circumstances. That was a terrible winter. From October to May snow was on the ground. On the last day of November our party arrived at Ash Hollow, returning from Fort Laramie. The snow was a foot deep at the former place. That night, another storm came on and continued for several days and nights. When it was over, we were snow bound. We remained there two weeks and then moved on to a village of Ogallala Sioux Indians, where we remained more than a month, and were kept from starving by the kindness of the Indians, who gave us all the buffalo meat we needed for our food. From this village to Fort Kearney, we journeyed on the ice of the Platte. On the land, the snow lay two feet deep, while the valleys were filled full with drifting snow. For months there was nothing to be seen but the dazzling whiteness of the snow. We were sixteen days in going from Ash Hollow to Fort Kearney -- a distance of 150 miles, and necessarily encountered many hardships and privations on the way. A few days after our arrival at the fort, another severe storm came on, with strong winds. This lasted several days and completely buried the one-story houses of the fort in the drifts. Barracks, officers' quarters, stables - -all were covered, and trenches



had to be dug around haystacks to prevent the cattle from walking on top of them. Cuttings were made from door to door of the houses. to allow the inmates to go in and out. The season was terrible, but it was general throughout the Northwest. It was an unfavorable time to form an opinion of the region, but I nevertheless resolved to make it my future home. I knew that the snow would finally disappear, and so it did. In June, the Valley of the Platte was decked with living green; the trees were rich with foliage, and the birds chirped forth their songs of joy."


  The bringing into favorable notice of the rich "Platte Country" -- as the region from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, along the Valley of the Platte and beyond, was vaguely known -- through the mediumship of emigration to the golden coast, was the preliminary step toward the erection of another territory in the arch of the Union. The political forces in power looked with concern at the prospect of the irrepressible struggle then imminent. The development of a new section of the continent did not, to the powers that were, suggest merely the increase of national and personal wealth; it presaged the rise or fall of the great dynasty which had for its foundation the institution of human slavery. To enter into an elaborate review of the situation of parties and party leaders would require more space than the limits of this chapter permit; but the conditions of the contending factions, at the beginning of 1850, must be summarized, that subsequent events, pointing to the struggle of 1853 and 1854, may rest upon logical basis.

  The dominant political party of the country, swaying state, church, commerce and society in general, was the advocate and supporter of slavery. The opposing party, made up of dissenting factions, as always the opposition is, held to the abstract idea of the error of slavery; but the degree of error and the methods by which it should be remedied, varied from mild conservatism -- which would permit its existence, but prevent too rapid encroachments on free soil -- to rabid abolitionism, which was for exterminating at once and by force, if need be, the iniquity of all iniquities. With such discordant and unstable materials, the fight was carried on for years. The admission of new territory, from time to time, gave sudden heat to "the cause," and vigor to the opponents thereof. The fierce struggle over the admission of Missouri had ended without open disrupt-



tion of the Union, but the breach between the pro-slavery and antislavery factions had grown with rapidity since the memorable days of 1820. Three decades had passed and each succeeding year witnessed a stronger gripping of official and social power by the pro-slavery advocates. Quietly, insidiously, the forces were at work. Sixteen years after the Missouri Compromise was adopted by Congress and the state admitted to the Union on the strength thereof, the western boundary of the state was extended, without attracting public attention. The original west line was drawn due north and south from a point where the Kansas enters the Missouri; but in 1836, a tract lying west of that line, between it and the Missouri, was taken from the unorganized region and given to Missouri. This was a flagrant violation of the spirit and letter of the compromise.

  It was in the midst of a series of political athleticism seldom surpassed that the time for the creation of the Platte country into territories was reached. The submission of the whig party to pro-slavery compromises; the nomination and defeat of General Scott and the triumphant election of Franklin Pierce to the presidency of the United States; the voluntary acceptance of the Fugitive Slave Law and other "compromise" acts by the nominal leaders of the opposition to slavery, and the apparent growth of the slave power in this country, all conspired to embolden the lawmakers in their belief that the time had come for the spread of slavery throughout the new West, and the ultimate increase of its political strength in Congress. It was held by the southern statesmen and their allies in the North that this region, as a part of the Louisiana Purchase, was territory into which the owners of slaves might carry their chattels and hold them in bondage, through the operation of the original treaty-guarantee of their right to retain unrestricted freedom in religious and property affairs.

  The first effort to erect a territory west of Missouri and Iowa was abortive. This was made in 1851 and 1852. The matter did not reach a vote. At the next session (1852-53), Willard P. Hall, of Missouri, on December 13, 1852, offered a bill in the House of Representatives organizing the Territory of "Platte," which included in its area what is now a greater portion of this state. The bill was referred to the committee on territories. From that committee, William A. Richardson, of Illinois, reported a bill organizing the Territory of Nebraska, covering the same area. This report did not meet with the approval of the southern members, and so warm was the discussion that ensued in the committee, that the report presented



recommended the rejection of the bill. John Letcher, of Virginia, moved to lay the bill on the table, which motion was defeated, and, in spite of opposition, the bill passed the House by a vote of 98 yeas to 43 nays, February 10, 1853. Now began the contest which became famous in the history of the nation. The bill sent to the Senate, heralded by pro-slavery blasts of warning. Secretly, there was organized a system to prevent free soil from becoming a new territory, unless a similar tract of slave soil should be set off, as a counter-poise in the National Legislature; for to admit a free territory without one dedicated to slavery was to give the anti-slavery faction a political lever that might become Archimedean in its strength against the South. It must be remembered that John Quincy Adams' idea of the property rights guaranteed under the treaty on which this region became a part of the United States was disputed by able men, and strong diversity of opinion existed. The bill reached the Senate on the 11th, and on the 17th Stephen A. Douglas reported it from the committee to which it was referred, without amendment. On March 2d, the last day but one of the session, Mr. Douglas moved that it be taken up. The southern members opposed this, and on the following day he renewed his motion. Then it was that Solon Borland, of Arkansas, moved that the bill be allowed to lie on the table. This amendment prevailed by a vote of 23 to 17. With the exception of the senators from Missouri, the slave states were solidly opposed to the organization of the new territory. Senator Atchison spoke briefly, but suggestively, on the subject, but his wishes were disregarded and the session closed without completing the work of the so-called Territory of Nebraska. The northern limit of the region embraced in these bills was generally mentioned as "the Platte River."

  The Thirty-third Congress began its session December 5, 1853, with a large democratic majority in both branches. During the time between the presentation of the bill alluded to and the opening of this session, the people of Iowa had manifested their disapproval of the lines described in the bill, and expressed a wish to have the country west of that state opened to settlement. Thousands of emigrants were impatiently awaiting the extinguishment of the Indian title to the lands, and were clamoring for the right to locate west of the Missouri. In the fall of 1853, a number of men assembled at Bellevue, in Sarpy County, and chose Hadley D. Johnson, a prominent citizen of Council Bluffs, Iowa, as their representative, delegating powers to him in the interest of a reformation of territorial lines.



  On the 14th of December, 1858, Augustus C. Dodge, senator from Iowa, introduced a bill in the Senate "to organize the Territory of Nebraska." This measure adhered to the former boundaries and it was referred to the committee on territories. The bill contained no clause interfering with the interdict on slavery in this region laid down by the Missouri Compromise. From the report then submitted is hereafter quoted so much as expresses the animus of the originators:

  "A question has arisen in regard to the right to hold slaves in the Territory of Nebraska, when the Indian laws shall be withdrawn and the country thrown open to emigration and settlement. By the eighth section of an act to authorize the people of Missouri Territory to form a constitution and state government, and for admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, and to prohibit slavery in certain territories, approved March 6, 1820, it was provided: 'That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of 36° 30' North Latitude, not included within the limits of the state contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be and hereby are prohibited; provided, always, that any person escaping into the same, from labor or service, is lawfully claimed in any state or territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person or persons claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.' Under this section, as in the case of the Mexican law in New Mexico and Utah, it is a disputed point whether slavery is prohibited in the Nebraska country by valid enactment. The decision of this question involves the constitutional power of Congress to pass laws prescribing and regulating the domestic institutions of the various territories of the Union. In the opinion of those eminent statesmen who hold that Congress is invested with no rightful authority to legislate upon the subject of slavery in the territories, the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri is null and void; while the prevailing sentiment in large portions of the Union sustains the doctrine that the Constitution of the United States secures to every citizen an inalienable right to move into any of the territories with his property, of whatever kind and description, and to hold and enjoy the same under the sanction of law. Your committee do not feel themselves called upon to enter upon the discussion of these controverted questions. They involve the same grave



issues which produced the agitation, the sectional strife and the fearful struggle of 1850. As Congress deemed it wise and prudent to refrain from deciding the matters in controversy then, either by affirming or repealing the Mexican laws, or by an act declaratory of the true intent of the Constitution, and the extent of protection afforded by it to slave property in the territories, so your committee are not prepared to recommend a departure from the course pursued on that memorable occasion, either by affirming or repealing the eighth section of the Missouri act, or by any act declaratory of the meaning of the Constitution in respect to the legal points in dispute.  * * * It is apparent that the Compromise measures of 1850 affirm and rest upon the following propositions: First, that all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories, and the new states to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, by their appropriate representatives, to be chosen by them for that purpose." * * *

  This bill received not more favorable consideration than its predecessor had, at the hands of the slavery propagandists. Archibald Dixon, of Kentucky, gave notice that, when it should come up, he would offer as an amendment a clause that the eighth section of the Missouri act "shall not be so construed as to apply to the territory contemplated by this act (the Nebraska bill) or to any other territory of the United States; but that the citizens of the several states or territories shall be at liberty to take and hold their slaves within any of the territories or states to be formed therefrom, as if the act, entitled as aforesaid, and approved as aforesaid, had never been passed."

  The inevitable result of so pronounced an annullment of the Compromise was the reopening of hostilities by the contending parties. Mr. Douglas did not of course approve of the amendment, and it was openly asserted by the democrats that the proposition was instigated by whig influence, as a political action, in the hope of producing dissensions in the ranks of the democrats. This, however, was but one of the bitter declarations made by both sides.

  In the midst of this heated controversy, Hadley D. Johnson reached Washington. He had no official status, but, as representative of a large region immediately affected by the measure, he was admitted to the councils of the committee on territories. By his logical arguments and able presentation of the claims of his constituents, Mr. Johnson enlisted the sympathies of the committee, not so much in regard to the principles at large as in the matter of boun-



daries, perhaps; but in all things he fairly represented the wishes of his people. It was mainly through his efforts that Senator Douglas requested the recommittal of the bill. On the 23d of January, 1854, a bill retaining the title, was offered, but so amended as to leave but little of the original document. Instead of one territory, to be called "Nebraska," two were now proposed. The south line of the newer territory, to be called "Kansas," was subsequently moved northward, to conform with the line between the lands of the Cherokee and the Osage Indians; or, from 36° 30' to the 37° North Latitude.

  The amended bill contained the following provisions relative to slavery: Section 21. And be it further enacted, That, in order to avoid all misconstruction, it is hereby declared to be the true intent and meaning of this act, so far as the question of slavery is concerned, to carry into practical operation the following propositions and principles, established by the compromise measures of 1850, viz: First. That all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories, and in the new states to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, through their appropriate representatives. Second. That "all cases involving the title to slaves," and "questions of personal freedom," are referred to the adjudication of the local tribunals, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. Third. That the provisions of the Constitution and laws of the United States, in respect to fugitives from service, are to be carried into faithful execution, in all the "organized territories," the same as in the states.

  A protracted debate on the bill ensued. The position taken by Senator Douglas was that Congress had no power to legislate slavery into or out of any territory or new state to be formed therefrom; and, after an unsuccessful attempt by Senator Chase to strike out so much of the clause as declared the "restriction" of 1820 superseded by the Compromise of 1850, Senator Douglas himself introduced a clause affirming the principle of non-intervention by Congress, which amendment prevailed. Mr. Chase then moved that "the people of the territory, through their appropriate representatives may, if they see fit, prohibit the existence of slavery therein." This was voted down. The fight was a hotly contested one and cannot be here followed in detail. The debate stands available, to those who desire to follow it, in the Congressional reports of that period and forms one of the most inviting topics for the historian whose



province includes national instead of state affairs. So far as the destiny of Nebraska is concerned, it remains to be said that the Senate, at a late hour on the night of March 3d -- or morning of March 4th -- passed the amended bill by a vote of 37 to 14.

  In the House, a bill had been introduced by Mr. Richardson, of Illinois, which was practically a duplicate of that offered by Senator Douglas, and passed, as above stated. The House bill was met with disapproval by William H. English, of Indiana, who proposed to strike out the clause declaring that the institution of slavery could not be legislated by Congress into a territory, and substituting one in which it was expressly stated that the bill should not be construed to mean that the people were thereby prevented, through properly constituted legislative authority, "from passing such laws in relation to the institution of slavery as they may deem best adapted to their locality and most conducive to their happiness and welfare." The bill was allowed to rest, in order that the Senate bill might be taken up. After a vigorous discussion, on May 18, 1854, the House took the measure in hand, limiting debate thereon to two days. Horace Greeley, in his "American conflict," gives the following summary of the action of the House:

  "The right of the majority to prescribe a reasonable limit to discussion -- to afford fair opportunity for debate, but insist that it shall close at a definite and not too distant day and hour -- has become a part of our parliamentary law. But the right of a minority to seek to improve what it deems a vicious and mistaken measure to soften, if it may, objectionable features, which it is unable to wholly remove -- is still sacred; and it has accordingly been established, after much experience of the evils of the opposite rule, that even a vote of the House, enforcing the previous question on a reluctant, struggling minority, does not cut off amendments which may have already been proposed, but only arrests debate and brings the House to vote successively on all the propositions legitimately before it, including, it may be, the engrossment of the bill. But A. H. Stevens, when the hour for closing the debate in committee (of the whole) had arrived, moved that the enacting clause of the bill be stricken out, which was carried by a preconcerted and uncounteracted rally of the unflinching friends of the measure. Of course, all pending amendments were thus disposed of--the bill being reported as dead. Having thus got the bill out of committee and before the House, Messrs. Stevens & Company voted not to agree to the report of the Committee of the Whole (yeas, agreeing with report, 97; nays, 117), thus



bringing the House to an immediate vote on the engrossment of the bill. Mr. Richardson now moved an amendment in the nature of a substitute, being in effect the Senate's bill, and thereupon called the previous question, which was seconded -- yeas, 116; nays, 90; when this amendment was adopted--yeas, 115; nays, 95; the bill ordered to be engrossed -- yeas, 112; nays, 99; the previous question again ordered and sustained, and the bill finally passed -- yeas, 113; nays, 100. Thus the opponents of the measure in the House were precluded from proposing any amendments or modifications whatever, where it is morally certain that, had they been permitted to do so, some such amendment as Governor Chase's, or Mr. English's, would have been carried. The free states contributed 44 votes -- all cast by democrats -- to the support of the measure. From the slave states, 12 whigs and 57 democrats sustained it. Against it were 91 members from free states, of whom 44 were chosen as whigs, 3 as free soil proper and 44 as democrats. So that precisely as many democrats from free states voted for as against the final passage of the Nebraska bill. Only nine members from slave states opposed it, of whom but two had been regarded as democrats. Of the whigs who so voted, but two were returned to the next House. The bill had thus passed the House in form as an original measure of that body, although it was in essence the amended Senate bill. Being sent to the Senate as such (May 24th), an attempt to amend was voted down, and the bill ordered to be engrossed, by 35 yeas to 13 nays. It was immediately passed and, being approved by President Pierce, became a law of the land."

  The bill received the presidential endorsement May 30, 1854. The tract embraced 351,558 square miles of territory, extending from the 40th parallel of North Latitude to the British possessions on the north; and from the Missouri River on the east to the summit of the Rocky Mountains on the west. The erection of the Territory of Colorado, February 28, 1861, decreased the area by 16,035 square miles; and the creation of the Territory of Dakota, March 2, 1867, further diminished the area by 228,907 square miles. At one time, a triangular tract of 15,378 square miles was attached from Washington and Utah territories, lying on the southwest slope of the Rocky Mountains, north of the 41st parallel and east of the 110th meridian; but this was afterward included in the 45,999 square miles which went to form the Territory of Idaho, March 3, 1863.

  It may be here observed that, as shown above, the present limits of Nebraska contain 75,995 square miles, which lie between the par-



allels of 40° and 43° North Latitude and the meridians of 95° 30' and 104 Longitude west from Greenwich.


  The first officers appointed by President Pierce under the provisions of the organic bill were: Francis Burt, of South Carolina, governor; Thomas B. Cuming, of Iowa, secretary; Fenner Ferguson, of Michigan, chief justice; James Bradley, of Indiana. and Edward R. Eardin, of Georgia, associate justices; Mark W. Izard, of Arkansas, marshal; and Experience Estabrook, of Wisconsin, attorney.


  The opening page in the history of the new territory was destined to become a sad and tragic one. Governor Burt reached Bellevue, then the only point in the territory worthy to claim the title of village, where the Mission House was located, on the 7th of October, 1854, and became the guest of Rev. William Hamilton, in spiritual charge of the mission. The governor was soon taken ill, but notwithstanding that fact, received the oath of office October 16th, from Chief Justice Ferguson. Two days later the governor died. The official record contains the entry:

  "Hon. Francis Burt, Governor of Nebraska, died at the Mission House, Bellevue, October 18, 1854, at 3 o'clock A. M. His disease was colonitis, or inflammation of the bowels."

  It is easy to imagine the excitement and consternation which prevailed at the little outpost of civilization at this rude shock. Although but just arrived, the dignity of the official position to which he was assigned, and the courtly graces of an accomplished southern gentleman, combined to win for the governor a profound respect; while the tragic method of his departure from the scene of earthly ambitions and sufferings increased the gloom which is inseparable from the closing of a mortal career.


  The rivalry of aspiring men created intense excitement throughout the territory and adjoining State of Iowa. The fever of specula-



tion lay burningly on those who saw millions in the air, and needed but the magic touch of the governor's pen to transmute their hopes to golden realities. As has been stated by Rev. Father Hamilton, the sacredness of death was not sufficient to deter these avaricious men from demanding instant settlement of the question in their favor; but, owing to the multitude of claims, it followed that many must suffer disappointment. Had Governor Burt lived a few weeks longer, it is quite probable that Bellevue would have been designated. The work of nature had been done more satisfactorily there than at almost any other site, but the influence of men was less potent in its behalf than in some of the other sections.

  The Board of Missions had a "reserve" of four quarter-sections of land at Bellevue. It is reported on reliable authority that the proper manipulation of this landed interest would have secured the location of the capital there; but when one of the men who afterward acted as an escort to the remains of Governor Burt asked Mr. Hamilton what the board would be likely to demand for the property, the reverend gentleman replied: "$50,000; the board has been offered that sum for the land as a farm." The interlocutor replied that $25,000 would be paid, but Mr. Hamilton said: "The price is $50,000, but you can go and consult with the board in New York." This man, it is asserted, did go to the metropolis, and for some reason failed to secure the money necessary to a perfecting of the transfer. Had this plan been carried out, and the purchase been made, three men (one of whom was a high public functionary at the time) would have controlled the square mile of land which formed the choicest part of the plateau.

  Florence, Omaha, Plattsmouth and Nebraska City were the competitors of Bellevue in the contest for the seat of government. Acting Governor Cuming used to visit these places frequently. Mr. Hamilton says, "Acting Governor Cuming asked me about getting the use of the mission building for the first Legislature, after he had decided upon Omaha as the capital, but before he was sure of having the building completed at the latter place in time. I gave my consent and agreed to remove the school to the Iowa Mission."

  There seems to be little doubt but that Bellevue might have obtained the capital if inducements of a substantial character had been laid out to certain influential men by the Board of Missions. These were not proffered, however, and the vital question was determined in favor of the City of Omaha.
Vol. I-3




  On the 19th of April, 1864, an act by Congress was approved by the President and became a law, enabling the people of Nebraska to form a state constitution and government. But the continuance of the war and the consequent disturbance of national affairs, united with the partial suspension of emigration to the West, and the Indian troubles on the frontier, united in rendering this permission undesirable. The territory had been drained of many men and much treasure in its generous assistance of the Government during the years of its struggle for existence. With the return of peace and the suppression of border outlawry, however, came an awakening consciousness of the value of state institutions. The people once more turned their attention to the subject, and revived an interest in the Enabling Act.


  Early in 1866, a constitution was framed, embodying these essential features:

Declaring equal inherent rights of all men; prohibiting slavery in the state; maintaining freedom of speech and press; establishing the right of petition to the people, the justice of trial before the law, civil and religious liberty, the perpetuation of free government and the rights of the people, declaring the elective franchise belongs to "white" citizens; vesting the government of the state in the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches, and defining their powers and jurisdiction; providing for methods of revenue and limiting expenditures; describing the jurisdiction of the state over the eminent domain, naming the boundaries of the state; and arranging for the fundamental machinery of a state, after the manner and order usual in such mighty undertakings.

The constitution provided that it should be voted upon June 2, 1866. The Legislature authorized the submitting of the question, and the election of state officers, by an act approved by Governor Saunders, February 9th. At that session of the Assembly, Hon. O. P. Mason was president of the council and Hon. James G. Megeath, speaker of the House.


  A bill admitting Nebraska as a state was passed by Congress July 28, 1866, but, owing to the near approach of the end of that



session of the national body, the quiet pocketing of the bill by the president was all that was needed to prevent its becoming a law at that time.

  As Nebraska was still a territory, with Governor Saunders in the executive office, the government continued as theretofore.

  In this condition was the territory at the assembling of another Congress, in December, 1866. A bill looking to the admission of Nebraska was at once presented, and in the following January, received the endorsement of both Houses. But the contest did not end here, for no sooner was the measure passed than it was vetoed by the President, on the ground that it embraced conditions not contained in the enabling act; that the proceedings attending the formation of the Constitution were different from those prescribed, and that the population of the territory did not justify its becoming a state. The bill was, however, passed by both Houses of Congress over the President's veto, by a vote of 30 to 9 in the Senate, February 8th; and by a vote, the day following, in the House, of 120 to 44.

  The act was not to take effect, "except upon the fundamental condition that within the State of Nebraska there shall be no denial of the elective franchise, or any other right, to any person by reason of race or color, except Indians not taxed; and upon the further fundamental condition that the Legislature of said state, by a solemn public act, shall declare the assent of said state to the said fundamental condition."


  By proclamation of Governor Saunders, dated February 14, 1867, the Territorial Legislature was convened February 20th for the purpose of acting on the fundamental conditions imposed on this state by Congress.

  The measure was immediately presented for action in the form of a bill, and passed the Senate by a vote of seven to three, and House by a vote of twenty to six, and was approved by the governor.

  The Legislature provided for the formal notification of the President of the United States of the acceptance of the conditions prescribed, and then adjourned. March 1, 1867, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation declaring Nebraska a state.


  The boundaries of the state when admitted were: Commencing at a point formed by the intersection of the western boundary of the



  State of Missouri with the 40° of North Latitude, extending thence due west along said 40° of North Latitude to a point formed by its intersection with the 25° of longitude west from Washington, thence along said 25° of longitude, to a point formed by its intersection with the 41° of North Latitude; thence west along said 41° of North Latitude to a point formed by its intersection with the 27° of longitude west from Washington; thence north along said 27° of West Longitude to a point formed by its intersection with the 43° 176; of North Latitude; thence east along said 43° of North Latitude to the Keya Paha River; thence down the middle of the channel of said river with its meanderings to its junction with the Niobrara River; thence down the middle of the channel of the said Niobrara River, and following the meanderings thereof to its junction with the Missouri River; thence down the middle of the channel of said Missouri, and following the meanderings thereof to the place of beginning.

  From figures on file in the office of the secretary of state, the present area of Nebraska, by counties, is ascertained to be as follows:

Adams ................


Frontier ..............


Antelope .............


Furnas ................


Boone ................


Gage ..................


Buffalo ...............


Gosper ...............


Butler .................


Greeley ..............


Burt ...................


Hall ...................


Cass ..................


Hamilton .............


Cedar .................


Harlan ................


Chase ................


Hayes ................


Cheyenne ............


Hitchcock ............


Clay ..................


Holt ..................


Colfax ................


Howard ..............


Cuming ..............


Jefferson .............


Custer ................


Johnson ..............


Dakota ...............


Kearney ..............


Dawson ..............


Keith .................


Dixon ................


Knox .................


Dodge ................


Lancaster ............


Douglas ..............


Lincoln ...............


Dundy ................


Madison .............


Fillmore ..............


Merrick ..............


Franklin ..............


Nance ................




Nemaha ..............


Seward ..............


Nuckolls .............


Sherman .............


Otoe ..................


Sioux ................


Pawnee ..............


Stanton ..............


Phelps ...............


Thayer ...............


Pierce ................


Valley ................


Platte .................


Washington .........


Polk ..................


Wayne ...............


Red Willow .........


Wheeler ..............


Richardson ..........


Webster ..............


Saline ................


York ..................


Sarpy ................



Saunders ............


Total ..................


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